NATO-RUSSIA. Lots of things are rumoured: see this in the Independent for example. On a personal note I feel a lot of schadenfreude here. When I was working for the government, I wrote many briefing notes saying that NATO should listen to what Moscow was saying and take it seriously; not necessarily agree, but seriously think about it. But no, NATO light-heartedly (not my expression but George Kennan’s) went ahead and expanded here, there and everywhere, broke its promises, enjoyed its adventures, all under the complacent assumption that Russia was negligible and its objections could be dismissed as mere self-interest, or spun as threats. No more. NATO has discovered that it really needs Russia in Afghanistan. But, NATO has to learn that words have meanings: the Secretary General cannot say, one week, that Georgia will be a member of NATO one day, and on another that it wants to have a “true strategic partnership” with Russia. Georgia, under present management, is not acceptable to Moscow: there are reasons why this is so. NATO must make the, apparently difficult, attempt to understand those reasons. Nonetheless, the movement is encouraging: after all, NATO and Russia share the essential element of a military alliance – which is common enemies.
GULAG ARCHIPELAGO. Solzhenitsyn’s widow presented an abridged version for schools, where it is required reading. Some Western media outlets expressed surprise when Putin called it “essential reading”: “unusual words of praise from a former KGB agent” said AP. Had they spent more time learning what Putin has said and done, they might be able to shuck off the tired KGB trope that is the beginning and end of much comment.
INTERNET. ITAR-TASS reports that 44 million Russians say they use the Internet at least once a week and 30 million claim to be very active users. I repeat that the conventional reports of press freedom ignore Russians’ increasing use of the New Media. Not a surprise, I think: many members of the Old Media are barely aware of it. As an amusing example of hubris leading to nemesis see Newsweek in 1995, in 2005 and today.
THE PROTEST GAME. Well, somebody had to break the impasse and the City has (perhaps with a nudge, as it were, from the Kremlin). An anti-Putin demo on Saturday passed off without incident. After some dickering over the size, the City has granted a permit for 1000 people on the 31st at Triumfalnaya Sq. One of the organisers says she (“we”) will accept the terms; we shall see what happens.
MOSCOW. To no one’s surprise the Moscow legislature elected Sergey Sobyanin and he was sworn in as Mayor on Thursday. Traffic, he says, will be a priority. Good luck. Will Luzhkov, still grumbling, appear in London as Russia’s new democratic spokesman? My bet is no – people aren’t as naïve about Russia as they were when Berezovskiy morphed from “gangster capitalist” to fighter for democracy.
DEFENCE PURCHASES. I am intrigued by the fact that the Russian Defence Ministry is open to buying foreign weapons. It has just been announced that it will manufacture light AFVs under licence from Italy and it has announced a tender for amphibious ships (presumably France will win). Two things here: it’s a sign of the “Third turn” in Europe but, equally significantly, that Moscow regards itself as part of the world.
MILITARY REFORM. Defence Minister Serdyukov says the new reorganisation into four strategic commands is complete ahead of schedule. This, of course, is nonsense – something this profound, overturning decades of Soviet and Imperial organisation – will take months, if not years, to be fully worked out. And it will have to be tested with real emergencies before its real point – unified command – operates smoothly.
JIHADISM. I again recommend people read Gordon Hahn’s regular coverage of jihadism in the North Caucasus. His latest report gives these numbers for last month: 92 jihadist attacks (3 of them suicide attacks), 47 officials and 22 civilians killed. This is a reality that few in the West seem to be aware of.
RUSSIA-UKRAINE. Putin visited Kiev and two agreements that have been announced cover cheaper than expected gas and a nuclear fuel agreement. Yanukovych has created an advisory council on Ukraine-Russian relations headed by his Chief of Staff. Better relations with Russia do not preclude better relations with Europe. A via media is Ukraine’s wisest strategy.
KYRGYZ REPUBLIC. The leader of the party that did best in the recent elections (about 9%), Kamchibek Tahiyev of the Ata-Zhurt party, says an assassination attempt on him on Saturday failed; he accuses the security forces.
© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)